The Great Sequoia Sempervirens aka The Coast Redwood. The reason I first moved here. Though they’re absolutely astonishing, I hear native people knew not to live under them, as little light gets through the hundred foot high canopy.
I checked several sites daily; Zillow, Craigslist, the local Facebook Groups, Home Buyers, etc. The weekly papers as well. I’d do go directly to the back page, straight to the RENTAL section of the classifieds though later I’d go on to include the FOR SALE section as well— if there happened to be one that week. In this part of the world, Southern Humboldt County, deep in the hills in the heart of the coast redwoods of Northern California, homes, rentals, apartments, any unclaimed land is scarce. Here more than anywhere in the country, LAND=MONEY. Just add seed and water. The climate loves cannabis. Most properties owned and uninhabited house plants instead of humans. Many properties remain uninhabited, aside from a security guard or a couple workers sleeping in tents or a van as the house is used for storage. It would seem primarily for black mold and leaky ceilings and bins of curing cannabis.
For three years I was houseless. Not in a down-and-out kinda way, I was making good money, travelled a lot and lived in some nice hotels. I’d spend three months at one friends house, move to another for a couple more, head to the hills to work for the summer, head down to a friends house in Mexico where I could live quite well on the cheap. I’d return in winter to live in a motel that rented by the month in the off-season. I spent three off-seasons there.
I stayed local throughout that time because my daughter was here. It didn’t hurt that there was a lot of work in town and money was rarely an issue. I imagine half the houses in Garberville and Redway (the two “big” towns in Southern Humboldt) are part weed depots. As every friend who comes in from the hills needs a place to store samples, and half the folks coming through town are looking to buy. It was brilliant. We would dine out often, travel to San Fran often, my sister living there at the time, and generally lived pretty well, my relationship with her mother notwithstanding as largely nonexistent, and when existent contemptuous as all get-out.
The winter rate hotel was the best. There she could stay with me. There i could broker. But in the summers it was tough, and I know the uncertainty of when we would again see each other was tough on her. I felt guilty for bringing this uncertainty into her life. When in Humboldt staying with a friend or in the hills—as she was my primary reason for being here—my mood was often somber, longing for a sense of stability and security. A stability and security my daughter and I could revel in. My trips to Mexico were always great. For what I could make in two months working at a friends garden or brokering in town would afford me a nice life for a while below the border. I always returned as the hotel went winter rate. Neither of us are really phone people.
It was three years after I left our last house when I saw the listing for the home online. For the region, the price was unreal. I’ve never seen such expensive 40 acre, 45 degree slope properties, with a derelict 300 square foot cabin decaying somewhere therein going for several million dollars. Multi-million dollar homes dot the landscape as well, which might seem unusual as the nearest city is a four hour drive. For the poor, there’s the woods, and they’re well lived in too. Each week the Eel River Cleanup Crew of volunteers reports the hundreds of pounds of trash recovered from one of the many clearings just outside of town.
This listed property was small, the house small, and the price the smallest I’d yet seen. I didn’t need a giant chunk of land, just a roof for my daughter and I, preferably one that didn’t have an expiration date.
The population growth inspired by an industry that boomed from the 90’s to the 00’s created a real housing issue here as outdoor farms moved indoors en masse. In summer the streets of town–pardon me–the street, singular, is full of oversized backpacks with sleeping bags and dogs in crowds the likes of which can be seen in actual cities a hundred times the size.
When Medical Marijuana passed in 1996, an already established industry really took off. In 08 a collapsed national economy brought even more hopeful marijuana millionaires into the hills. In 2012, out of fear of a price drop as a full legalization initiative made the ballot many of these scenes expanded in size and scope unlike anything previously seen. Land prices went up and up. Even local families, born and raised and working full time routinely forced to relocate, or cash in on an over-inflated market and buy a Harley dealership in Nevada. Those new to town face a straight up wall. Housing hides beneath camouflage, The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker seek rental, on repeat.
It was about one year after moving in to my new home, one that included a real commitment, that my kids mom tells me she’s thinking of moving back to the East Coast. We had moved out together four years earlier to raise two daughters (she had an elder, a girl who raised me as much as I her) in an area which I once saw as Paradise. I knew it well, first moving an hour north for college, and a decade later an our south for rehab.
The Paradise I remembered seemed a little dicier. It didn’t take long to notice and seemed exponentially worse every year. More violence, more hard drugs around, and an ever increasing gap between the multi-million dollar hill and the cardboard campsite under the overpass. The area had changed, most notably so after 2012. She’d been witness to more dead bodies (the best being the one found by the river during a community Easter egg hunt by the town’s only Compton born clown) than probably necessary. I didn’t put up a fight when she brought up the move back East. I wasn’t as convinced this was the best place for one to learn about life.
Humboldt County may be a bubble, Northern California might, all of California might.. but Southern Humboldt is so to an unparalleled extent. Behind the Redwood curtain a different America exists. This is Cannabis Country. However unfortunate, a still illegal drug supports everything, and it’s illegality places it in a Market called Black. Guns, crank, heroin, and home invasions, are also in said market. I thought some time in a more “traditional” setting might be a good move, with grandparents and cousins all around. Life in a house as opposed to a school bus with strange men sleeping ten feet away. If you’ll pardon the phrase, The MAGA America.
She comes to visit several times a year, I get the good Holy Days and a bit of summer, and its marvelous time, usually joined by a grand-parent or two. But her bedroom is now empty. A friend rents it for a few months a year, he leaves every winter for his home turf of St Kitts. Hard to argue with that. Many days, sometimes weeks, are spent alone. This would be the opposite of life in the years prior. I’ve lived in communal type situations, since age 14. I went to boarding schools. A dozen jails and a dozen rehabs. I lived on the road with Phish and the Grateful Dead, six kids to a van. I was in a five year, then a six year, then a three year, another three year, then a one year relationship. Whether it was twelve of us working a garden or a full house at the winter rate hotel, or three of us in a palapa in Mexico, I often longed for time to myself. A born introvert. The winters in the hotel were for my daughter, but as it was in town I almost always had friends around, staying with me, or on the way.
The trail leading to our favorite swimming hole
I’m further from work now, further from town. Out a road, pardon, a mosaic of blind corners, single lanes, oft downed trees, mud, dirt, and monster trucks also-known-as Grow Dozers– full-size late-model 4 x 4’s with lift kits and $20k in aftermarket Mossy Oak armor. Since moving in I’ve left the area once, a long planned trip to my cousins wedding on the East Coast. The redwoods have begun to resemble jail bars. An introvert. I spend most of my time stuck in solitude I once swam in, always scouring the shore for someone to sit and share.
Whoever said “The best thing for people is people” was right.
Except for Mick.
Were I to have hero’s, Mick Dodge, above, who’s made a nice life for himself in the woods of Washington, might well be one. Have you seen his teeth??